June 13, 2011
Well, our trip to Cambodia has come to a close—I write this on our first flight home. But since the blog hasn’t been updated since last Sunday, I figured I would update the blog on what our Problems Without Passports group has been doing this past week. My excuse for the lack of updates will be our jam packed schedules of embassy meetings, province interviews, travel, and touring the city of Siem Reap!
On Monday we visited the United States and Japanese embassies. A few of us were looking forward to these visits, particularly the United States, because we wanted to be able to ask questions about how the United States perceives their role in leading up to the Cambodian Genocide and how that affects their current relationship with Cambodia and the ECCC. I don’t know if we all got the answers we were looking for, but it was still an interesting visit. The embassy even tweeted about our visit (@usembphnompenh) with a group picture of us, posted below.
After our visit to the United States, we had a quick break for lunch then headed over to Japan. The Japanese embassy was the first time we got to speak with the actual ambassador at the embassy. He was very hospitable, providing us with hot tea and was definitely the most prepared, with a power point presentation about Japan-Cambodia relations. We hadn’t learned much before about Japan’s involvement in Cambodia so it was definitely an enlightening experience.
On Tuesday, we had our final day of province interviews. This province was particularly interesting because we heard of several instances of former Khmer Rouge cadres who lived in the villages alongside victims. We were very interested in learning from the people we interviewed how perpetrators and victims interact how and how they manage to live alongside each other after all the atrocities after the Khmer Rouge. We split into three groups as we usually do. Jenny and I interviewed the district chief who was a victim of the KR and had several relatives sent from Phnom Penh into the killing fields and murdered. He also witnessed violence from the KR against their own soldiers when they were perceived to have done something wrong. I really enjoyed talking to him and hearing his story. Nora, Abbie, and Jennifer interviewed another former victim. The rest of the group, Morgan, Cat, Amanda, and Panos, went with Kosal to attempt to get an interview with a really high up former KR member, who kept all the records at S-21 prison. Kosal had tried to get interviews with him in the past and he had refused to talk, but the chief thought it might be possible to speak to him this time. They were able to meet him and get a photo, but unfortunately he declined to be interviewed because of the trials that are still going on. They definitely had an interesting moment afterwards, when after meeting him, Cat opened her book about the perpetrators of S-21 and this man’s picture was staring back at her. Their group ended up interviewing another former KR cadre instead.
Tuesday was our last night in Phnom Penh before we traveled to Siem Reap, so we wanted to have a memorable evening. We ended up getting a room at a karaoke place and had a great time singing and dancing the night away…to songs in English, Khmer, and Korean (or at least we tried to sing the Khmer and Korean songs).
After almost two weeks of hard work and interviews in Phnom Penh, Wednesday began the second phase of our trip as we traveled to Siem Reap. Most of the day was spent on our bus for the 5 or 6 hour drive. We arrived at our hotel, which we were all very impressed by—it was beautiful. As usual, when we arrived at our destination, we all gathered so that Kosal could tell us the plan for the day/evening. His agenda was a little different than usual: “Relax Relax Relax! Swim Swim Swim! Spa Spa Spa!” We didn’t have to argue with that. We all headed to the pool and made appointments at the spa. I say it was a well-deserved afternoon of relaxation.
Thursday and Friday were spent touring the famous temples of Siem Reap, which are national treasures in Cambodia. Rather than re capping our experiences at every temple, here are some of my pictures from our visits:
One of the many mysteries of the temples… how did ancient civilizations know about dinosaurs?
Feeding elephants bananas. So adorable.
A monkey attacking Morgan after she tried to feed it a banana. I guess elephants like bananas more than monkeys do. Who knew?
Climbing to the top of Angkor Wat
After our awesome few days in Siem Reap, we headed back on our bus to Phnom Penh for our last night before flying home. We enjoyed lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Friends, and had a final dinner of Khmer food. This morning, we all woke up and enjoyed our last breakfast at our hotel, the Villa Langka, which has become like home to us. Then it was time to head home.
This Friday will be the conclusion of our PWP class, with our group presentations at the Shoah Foundation Institute. We turn in our research papers early July on our individual topics.
I have loved my experience in Cambodia! It has been such an enlightening and enriching experience. My eyes have been opened to the tragic history of Cambodia in the 1970s, but being in Cambodia has also allowed me to experience its rich and unique culture and helped me realize there is so much else to learn about Cambodia besides the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.
Thank you to Abbie, Jennifer, Jenny, Caroline, Morgan, Nora, Cat, Amanda, and Panos for being awesome classmates and Karen and Kosal for being the best instructors we all could have asked for.
And with that, I leave you all with a final FIGHT ON:
Chum Reap Lear!!